Thursday, September 27, 2012

Catholic Voting and The Order of Truths

A common mistake that Catholics make is assuming that every Catholic teaching carries equal weight, and that as the faithful, we are equally bound to follow everything that the pope or a bishop says. Related to this is the idea that a politician who goes against Church “teaching” on one issue, like supporting a particular social program, is equal to a politician who goes against another Church teaching, like the right of unborn children to live.

For example, Commonweal’s Margaret O'Brien Steinfels’ described Paul Ryan like this: “sure, like the rest of us he is a Cafeteria Catholic.”  In other words , Rep. Ryan proposing a budget that some members of the USCCB criticized is like a Catholic supporting abortion in spite of the teachings of the Magisterium. William McGurn rightly took her to task for this false equivalency, on the pages of the Wall Street Journal, but it seems to me that one of the reasons that O'Brien Steinfels’ argument works is that most of the people talking about this are trying to score partisan points.

So here, from a Catholic (rather than a partisan) perspective, is what the Church actually teaches about when it is, and isn’t, okay for a Catholic to disagree with a Church teaching.  Everything I’ll cite to is from a Church Council or pope, who I trust we can agree aren’t going around making Magisterial statements in the hope of winning U.S. presidential elections.

I. Vatican II, John Paul II, Benedict XVI, and the Order of Truths 

The notion of a hierarchy of truths was explicitly mentioned by the Second Vatican Council, in Unitatis Redintegratio:
Moreover, in ecumenical dialogue, Catholic theologians standing fast by the teaching of the Church and investigating the divine mysteries with the separated brethren must proceed with love for the truth, with charity, and with humility. When comparing doctrines with one another, they should remember that in Catholic doctrine there exists a "hierarchy" of truths, since they vary in their relation to the fundamental Christian faith. Thus the way will be opened by which through fraternal rivalry all will be stirred to a deeper understanding and a clearer presentation of the unfathomable riches of Christ.
Now, as the context suggests, this was targeted towards Catholic theologians dealing with non-Catholics in ecumenical dialogue.  And the point appears to be that a religious group that denies the Trinity is less Catholic than one that believes in the Trinity, but denies the authority of the Bishop of Rome.  Not all Catholic teachings are equally central.  Of course, this does not apply directly for Catholics: we must, by definition, believe in both the Trinity and the papacy.  But a similar order of truths exists for Catholics, as well.

In 1998, Pope John Paul II referenced this when he added three paragraphs to the Profession of Faith made by those teaching the Catholic faith.  He explained that these additions were “intended to better distinguish the order of the truths to which the believer adheres.”  Accompanying this was a lengthier explanation of the changes from Cardinal Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict XVI.  It’s well worth the read.

In it, Ratzinger explains that there are three distinct levels of Magisterial teaching, signified by each of the three paragraphs: (1) those truths which are divinely revealed, (2) those which are definitively proposed, and (3) those which belong to the authentic ordinary Magisterium.

1. Divinely Revealed

The highest of these three, of course, are those truths which are divinely revealed.  Ratzinger summarized what these beliefs were:

To the truths of the first paragraph belong the articles of faith of the Creed, the various Christological dogmas and Marian dogmas; the doctrine of the institution of the sacraments by Christ and their efficacy with regard to grace; the doctrine of the real and substantial presence of Christ in the Eucharist and the sacrificial nature of the eucharistic celebration; the foundation of the Church by the will of Christ; the doctrine on the primacy and infallibility of the Roman Pontiff; the doctrine on the existence of original sin; the doctrine on the immortality of the spiritual soul and on the immediate recompense after death; the absence of error in the inspired sacred texts; the doctrine on the grave immorality of direct and voluntary killing of an innocent human being.
Most of these are issues which are strictly theological: that is, politicians are rarely asked to deny their belief in the Trinity, or the sacraments, or original sin. But politicians and voters alike are asked to compromise on the last of these truth, about “the grave immorality of direct and voluntary killing of an innocent human being.

Pace O'Brien Steinfels, a Catholic who supports abortion isn’t a “cafeteria Catholic.”  Rather, we rightly call that person a “heretic,” as Ratzinger explains:
These doctrines require the assent of theological faith by all members of the faithful. Thus, whoever obstinately places them in doubt or denies them falls under the censure of heresy, as indicated by the respective canons of the Codes of Canon Law.
These are the absolute core of the teachings of the Catholic Church.  You simply cannot deny them and remain “Catholic” in good standing.  Or put another way, there’s no such thing as “Catholics for Choice.” 

2. Definitively Proposed

The second tier of teachings are “those teachings belonging to the dogmatic or moral area, which are necessary for faithfully keeping and expounding the deposit of faith, even if they have not been proposed by the Magisterium of the Church as formally revealed.”  That definition is confusing, but Cdl. Ratzinger’s examples explain what is meant: he uses the examples of the validity of papal elections and councils, as well as the invalidity of Anglican orders (as explained  by Pope Leo XIII in the Apostolic Letter Apostolicae Curae).

These three areas are all ones in which truths which we know are not Divinely revealed are still necessarily true. Put differently, Jesus didn’t say, “Benedict XVI is the pope,” “Vatican II is a valid Ecumencial Council,” and “Anglican orders are invalid,” but the truths that He revealed necessarily lead us to these conclusions. If Catholics denied the validity of Benedict’s papacy, just because Jesus didn’t tell us who the 265th pope would be, the Church would fall apart.  Also on this list are canonizations of Saints.  Since these individuals lived after the time of Christ, Jesus and Scripture are silent on the matter, but given what the Deposit of Faith reveals about what it takes to be a Saint, we can know infallibly that certain individuals are in Heaven.

The difference between truths of the first and second tier are that we can say for certain that the truths of the first tier are Divinely revealed.  Given this, some of the truths in the second tier may belong in the first tier, once they are dogmatically defined.  This has already happened at least once, with papal infallibility: there was a dispute over whether papal infallibility was divinely-revealed, or simply the necessary consequence of Divine revelation: Vatican I settled that dispute.  Ratzinger notes that another doctrine appears to be going through the same transition:
A similar process can be observed in the more recent teaching regarding the doctrine that priestly ordination is reserved only to men. The Supreme Pontiff, while not wishing to proceed to a dogmatic definition, intended to reaffirm that this doctrine is to be held definitively, since, founded on the written Word of God, constantly preserved and applied in the Tradition of the Church, it has been set forth infallibly by the ordinary and universal Magisterium. As the prior example illustrates, this does not foreclose the possibility that, in the future, the consciousness of the Church might progress to the point where this teaching could be defined as a doctrine to be believed as divinely revealed.
In addition, Ratzinger raises another teaching, the prohibition against euthanasia, going through a similar process.  Unfortunately, this is a teaching increasingly relevant to the political realm, as at least one state already has legal “assisted suicide.”

These truths, like those in the first tier, simply must be believed:
With regard to the nature of the assent owed to the truths set forth by the Church as divinely revealed (those of the first paragraph) or to be held definitively (those of the second paragraph), it is important to emphasize that there is no difference with respect to the full and irrevocable character of the assent which is owed to these teachings. The difference concerns the supernatural virtue of faith: in the case of truths of the first paragraph, the assent is based directly on faith in the authority of the Word of God (doctrines de fide credenda); in the case of the truths of the second paragraph, the assent is based on faith in the Holy Spirit's assistance to the Magisterium and on the Catholic doctrine of the infallibility of the Magisterium (doctrines de fide tenenda).
So both the first and second tier teachings require total assent: the only difference is whether we believe based upon the authority of the Word of God, or on the authority of the Holy Spirit’s guidance of the Magisterium. But since both the Second and Third Person of the Trinity are God, we need total faith on these issues.

3. Authentic Ordinary Magisterium

The third tier of teachings are those arising from the “Authentic Ordinary Magisterium.”  Basically, this is everything else worthy of being called Catholic teaching.  These teachings are not infallible.  Since this is a broad category, the teachings require different degrees of assent:
As examples of doctrines belonging to the third paragraph, one can point in general to teachings set forth by the authentic ordinary Magisterium in a non-definitive way, which require degrees of adherence differentiated according to the mind and the will manifested; this is shown especially by the nature of the documents, by the frequent repetition of the same doctrine, or by the tenor of the verbal expression.
In the document, Ratzinger does not given any examples of what these other areas are, but elsewhere, he does:
Not all moral issues have the same moral weight as abortion and euthanasia. For example, if a Catholic were to be at odds with the Holy Father on the application of capital punishment or on the decision to wage war, he would not for that reason be considered unworthy to present himself to receive Holy Communion. While the Church exhorts civil authorities to seek peace, not war, and to exercise discretion and mercy in imposing punishment on criminals, it may still be permissible to take up arms to repel an aggressor or to have recourse to capital punishment. There may be a legitimate diversity of opinion even among Catholics about waging war and applying the death penalty, but not however with regard to abortion and euthanasia.
I can’t make that any clearer than he already did. On some issues, like the death penalty and the justness of a specific war, we’re relatively free to disagree with one another, and even with the pope. But on other issues, there is one, and only one, legitimate Catholic opinion.

II. The Implications for Catholic Voters

Viktor Vasnetsov, Judgement Day (1896)
The biggest risk facing Catholic voters isn’t that they’ll elect the wrong guy. It’s that they’ll ignore or compromise their faith when it’s politically expedient, effectively selling their souls for the sake of a political party.  It’s an odd irony in American culture, that politicians are lambasted as dishonest and slimy, and yet they’re the ones who Catholics seem to be tuning in to for moral guidance, rather than the Church.  It’s as if our nation damns the mass of politicians to Hell, and then willingly follows their lead.  It simply makes no sense, yet plenty of voters (of all political affiliations) do this.

The two traps that Catholics often fall into when talking about politics is: (a) acting as if their own candidate is immaculate, or (b) acting as if all the candidates are equally bad, from a Catholic point of view. Neither of these are true. Every candidate is flawed, but some flaws (like support for abortion and euthanasia) are objectively worse, and simply indefensible.

Having said all of that, I should emphasize that the points I raised here apply well outside of the realm of voting: if you’re a Catholic who argues against original sin, or for women’s ordination to the priesthood, or for euthanasia or abortion, you’re guilty of heresy, and need to repent.  My concern here is less with how you fare on Election Day, and more concerned with how you fare on Judgment Day.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Does Saint Jerome Endorse the Protestant Canon?

In response to last week’t two-part series on the canon of Scripture, my Lutheran friend Rev. Hans wrote:
Guercino, St Jerome in the Wilderness (1650)
I am curious about the view St. Jerome has on the Deuterocanonical books. I have read that he questioned these books and separated them from the Old Testament Canon. You brought up the Vulgate, so it might be interesting to hear from the great translator. You present great arguments, and they have been making me think quite a bit about the Protestant arguments. I am not ready to raise the white flag, but I am searching the garrison for another solid defense.
Rev. Hans is hardly the first Protestant to seek a “garrison” in St. Jerome.  He’s undoubtedly the Church Father that Protestants appeal to most often on the question of the canon of Scripture, even while his views on other subjects, like the Marian doctrines are ignored. The reason seems obvious: Jerome looks like he’s giving Protestants exactly what they want: someone who holds to the full and exact 66-Book canon… and a brilliant Biblical scholar at that!

It’s true that Jerome generally trusted the Hebrew versions of the Scriptures over the Greek versions, and consequently spoke out against several of the Deuterocanonical Books, explicitly arguing against their canonicity at various times.  But, for a number of reasons, he’s not the garrison Protestants are hoping for.

The first and most basic reason is that Jerome actually argued for the Longer (Greek / Catholic) Version of Daniel over and against the Shorter (Hebrew / Protestant) version. We see this in his reply to Rufinus. A little background: there were four Greek translations of the Book of Daniel in circulation (Aquila, Symmachus, the Septuagint, and Theodotion). All four Greek versions were of the Longer Version. For some reason, probably because it was a superior translation, the Church tended to use Theodotion’s translation, even though they used the Septuagint translation of all of the other Old Testament Books. Jerome found this fact really important, probably because it proved that the Septuagint wasn’t the divinely-inspired translation that several of his contemporaries (including Rufinus) claimed.

So Jerome translates the Book of Daniel into Latin, using the Theodotion version, and includes a preface explaining why he chose not to use the version of “the Seventy,” and noting that the Jews rejected the portions about Susanna and the Hymn of the Three Young Men. Rufinus responds, criticizing Jerome for attacking the Septuagint, and for attacking the canonicity of Susanna and the Hymn of the Three Young Men. Jerome answers by saying that (a) yes, he was attacking the Septuagint translation, but has the authority of the Church on his side, and (b) no, he wasn’t attacking the canonicity of Susanna and the Hymn of the Three Young Men, but simply noting what Jewish critics argued:
We have four versions to choose from: those of Aquila, Symmachus, the Seventy, and Theodotion. The churches choose to read Daniel in the version of Theodotion. What sin have I committed in following the judgment of the churches? But when I repeat what the Jews say against the Story of Susanna and the Hymn of the Three Children, and the fables of Bel and the Dragon, which are not contained in the Hebrew Bible, the man who makes this a charge against me proves himself to be a fool and a slanderer; for I explained not what I thought but what they commonly say against us.
Lucas van Leyden, Saint Jerome (1521)
So Jerome acknowledged the Jewish criticisms of the Longer version of Daniel, yet still opted to translate the Greek Theodotion Longer version, rather than translating the shorter Hebrew version.  In other words, it wasn’t as if Jerome was unaware of the controversy: he intentionally opted for the Deuterocanonical version of Daniel.

The second reason Jerome makes a bad Protestant garrison is related to the first.  Jerome chose the Theodotion version of Daniel, not because he personally thought it was the best translation, but because (as he explains), he was deferring to the “judgment of the churches.” In this same letter to Rufinus, he writes, “Still, I wonder that a man should read the version of Theodotion the heretic and judaizer, and should scorn that of a Christian, simple and sinful though he may be.” In other words, he doesn’t even understand why the Church uses Theodotion’s translation, but he defers to Her judgment anyhow.  Given his deference to the Church on this subject, there’s no serious question where Jerome would stand today: he’d side with the Catholic Church, even if he didn’t fully understand Her reasoning.

The third reason, related to the second, is that Jerome translates the Vulgate. Between holding to the canon that he personally thinks should be the Christian canon, and holding to the canon that the Pope says should be the Christian canon, Jerome opts for the latter. It’s true that he had commentaries explaining his personal views on the various Books, but he translated them for use in the canon, nevertheless. Put another way: Jerome’s objections to the Deuterocanon weren’t strong enough to convince Jerome to reject the Vulgate.

Fourth, Jerome used a strange three-tiered system for canonicity that both Catholics and Protestants reject, with the Deuterocanonical Books occupying the middle tier. The reason that this matters is, at various places, Jerome quotes some of the Deuterocanonical Books as Scripture, including those he thinks aren’t (or shouldn’t be) canonical. One of the clearest examples of this is in Letter 108, in which he quotes Sirach 13:2, and expressly calls it Scripture, writing, “for does not the scripture say: ‘Burden not yourself above your power?’” There are several other examples of Jerome treating the Deuterocanon like Scripture, but I think you can see the problem for Protestants.

Fifth, Jerome's opposition to the Greek version of the Scriptures is based on the erroneous idea that the New Testament always sides with the Hebrew version, where the Hebrew and Septuagint disagree. He said this to Rufinus:
Sano di Pietro, Madonna and Child with Saint Jerome,
Saint Bernardino, and Four Angels
(15th c.)
Wherever the Seventy agree with the Hebrew, the apostles took their quotations from that translation; but, where they disagree, they set down in Greek what they had found in the Hebrew. And further, I give a challenge to my accuser. I have shown that many things are set down in the New Testament as coming from the older books, which are not to be found in the Septuagint; and I have pointed out that these exist in the Hebrew. Now let him show that there is anything in the New Testament which comes from the Septuagint but which is not found in the Hebrew, and our controversy is at an end.
So that’s the test: if we can show any place in the New Testament which quotes from a passage found only in the LXX, and (by Jerome’s own standard), he would have dropped his opposition.  In fact, we can show several such places.  For example, Hebrews 10:5-7 uses the LXX version of Psalm 40 as evidence of the Incarnation (while the Hebrew version lacks the critical line, “a body you prepared for me”).  This prophesy only works with the LXX version, not with the Hebrew version.   A second example would be Matthew 21:16, in which Jesus quotes the LXX version of Psalm 8 to explain why the children are praising Him:  the Hebrew version lacks a reference to praise, and wouldn’t work.  So by Jerome’s own testimony, we can say that he would drop his opposition had he just been exposed to these facts.

Jerome’s argument against the Deuterocanonical Books was tied, in no small way, to the fact that he was trained in Hebrew by Jewish scholars (specifically, a scholar named Barabbas, who he references in his writings), and had wrongly concluded that the Hebrew version of the Old Testament in use at his time was more reliable than it really was. Had he known what we know now, the controversy would have come to an end.

Finally, I would suggest that the appeal to Jerome isn’t principled. By that, I mean that even if Protestants were right that Jerome completely rejected the Deuterocanon (and I think the above shows that’s not the case), that’s no basis for the canon.  After all, Protestants ignore Jerome’s teachings on a wide range of issues, like Mary’s perpetual Virginity, or the authority of the Bishop of Rome, etc.  Given this, why take Jerome over and against everyone else in the early Church?  Is it because you think he’s a better Scripture scholar? In that case, why reject his translation of Genesis 3:15 as saying that “she” (Mary) will crush the head of Satan?

In other words, it’s one thing to say, “We believe this because the Church Fathers taught this.” It’s quite another to say “we believe this, now let’s try to find some Church Father to support us.” And on this question of the canon, Protestants seem to be quite egregiously engaging in the latter.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Why Not 66: Answering Brian Edward's Arguments for the Protestant Canon (Pt. II)

This is the second part of my response to Evangelical theologian Brian Edward’s case for the 66-Book Protestant canon, “Why 66?”  Yesterday, I answered three of Edwards’ major claims: that the Deuterocanon was rejected by the early Jews, by Jesus and the Apostles, and that the Septuagint at the time of Christ probably “did not include” the Deuterocanonical Books (even though there are Deuterocanonical Books in every one of the ancient copies of the Septuagint).

Today, I want to address fourth and final bad argument Edwards presents: namely, his claim that none of the Early Church Fathers quote from the Deuterocanon as Scripture.  I’ll turn towards a major area in which we agree, and show why that supports the Catholic (rather than the Protestant) canon of Scripture.

I. Early Church Fathers

In addition to claiming that the Deuterocanon was rejected by the early Jews, by Jesus, and by the Apostles, Edwards also claims that the early Church rejected the canonicity of the Deuterocanon:
(II, 2:56) “Now, it’s true that some of the early Church leaders beyond the New Testament quoted from the Apocrypha, though compared to their use of the Old Testament very rarely, but there’s no evidence that they treated them as Scripture.
Remember: this isn’t some no-name Evangelical group with a random speaker making an off-handed comment about the canon.  Answers in Genesis brought in Brian Edwards as a theologian to present a talk specifically on how we can know that the Scriptures contain exactly the 66 Books making up the Protestant canon, and AiG now sells copies of this hour-long presentation on their website for $12.99.  And their expert just claimed that there’s “no evidence” that the Early Church Fathers treated the Books of the Deuterocanon as Scripture.

With this incredible claim in mind, here’s a brief view of the historical figures that Edwards appeals to, in chronological order.  As you will see, each and every one of the figures that Edwards cites treats Books from the Deuterocanon as Scripture, often in the very works he’s quoting from:

A. The Muratorian Fragment

The Muratorian canon is, as Edwards notes, perhaps the oldest Christian canon that we have. Edwards originally claims (II, 9:17) that the fragment dates to the year 150 A.D., but that’s impossible, since it refers to the pontificate of Pope Pius I, who reigned from 142 to 157, in the past tense. The standard date that I’ve seen is 170 A.D.  In any case, appealing to this canon poses a few serious problems:
The Muratorian fragment
(II, 9:57) “Now, this leaves out 1 and 2 Peter, James and Hebrews. However, 1 Peter was widely accepted by this time, we know that, so that’s probably an oversight by the compiler or the later copyist. And no other Books are present, with one rather strange exception (and I tell you this because otherwise somebody who knows so much about it will come up and remind me afterwards I didn’t tell you): that the Wisdom of Solomon is added. Now that has to be an error, because the Wisdom of Solomon belongs to the Apocrypha, and it was never ever added to the New Testament. So I think that was a coffee break slip by the copyist, that that’s been put in.
As I noted in Part I, Edwards freely plays the “copyist error” card wherever it suits him, while mocking it when it doesn’t.  Doesn’t have 1 Peter and you think it should? Must be a copyist error. Contains the Book of Wisdom, which you reject as Scripture? Must be a copyist error.

This latter claim, that the inclusion of the Book of Wisdom in the canon was a result of a “coffee break slip by the copyist” is simply not a believable theory.  To see why, read the relevant section of the Muratorian fragment:
The Epistle of Jude, indeed, and two belonging to the above-named John-or bearing the name of John-are reckoned among the Catholic epistles. And the book of Wisdom, written by the friends of Solomon in his honour. 
Every one of the English translations of the fragment include the line. It’s one thing to misspell or badly translate a word or phrase, or even to omit or repeat a line of text, but how does someone accidentally write “And the book of Wisdom, written by the friends of Solomon in his honour”?  How could that possibly be a copyist error?  For what it’s worth, there is a possible translation error within this sentence, but not the one that Edwards claims:
Tregelles suggests that the Latin translator of this document mistook the Greek Philonos “Philo” for philon “friends.” Many in ancient times thought that the so-called "Wisdom of Solomon" was really written by Philo of Alexandria. —M.D.M.
But that point is irrelevant for our purposes. Whether the Muratorian fragment ascribed the authorship of the Book of Wisdom to Philonos or philon, it certainly lists the Book as Scripture, and Edwards’ baseless claim of a copyist errors is a cop-out.

B. Irenaeus

Edwards’ use of St. Irenaeus of Lyons is to show that the New Testament was widely accepted throughout the Church. Edwards makes a few points to establish that Irenaeus is a reliable witness, both of which I agree with. First, that Irenaeus is (II, 11:53) “the second generation from the Apostles. He knew Polycarp, Polycarp sat under the feet of the Apostle John.” So Irenaeus knew what the Apostles taught. He also knew what the Church at his time believed and taught:
(II, 12:29) “Irenaeus was well-acquainted with all of the churches across the Roman Empire. He believed, and he knew what they believed, and he knew not only what they believed, but he knew the Books that they were used, and he knew that they agreed on the fundamental Christian Gospel.
Carl Rohl Smith, Irenæus af Lyon (1884)
The combination of these factors made him a potent foe of heresy, and Edwards rightly refers to his Against Heresies as (II, 12:20) “a magnificent dismissal of just about all of the heresies that he could get his hands on. It’s magnificently done.

But having established Irenaeus’ credibility, and the reliability of Against Heresies, read what this great Saint actually had to say.  First of all, throughout Against Heresies, Irenaeus quotes the Deuterocanon as Scripture. For example, in Book V, Chapter 35, he ascribes a lengthy passage of Baruch 4-5 to “Jeremiah the prophet.” And in Book IV, Chapter 26, he quotes from the longer version of Daniel (which Protestants reject) as Scripture, ascribing it to “Daniel the prophet.

But the problem goes beyond the canon of Scripture: Irenaeus is a Catholic who loves the papacy. Appealing to Apostolic succession as the key safeguard against heresy, Irenaeus explained that this applies in a particular way to the Church at Rome. For proof, he appealed to “that tradition derived from the apostles, of the very great, the very ancient, and universally known Church founded and organized at Rome by the two most glorious apostles, Peter and Paul,” and added that “it is a matter of necessity that every Church should agree with this Church.

Remember that Irenaeus is Bishop of Lyons, France, yet he openly defers to the Church of Rome, and says that all other churches must do the same. Now, as Edwards explained, Irenaeus wrote this masterpiece in about 180 A.D., which is significant, since Edwards later denies that papal primacy existed during the first five hundred years of Christianity:
(III, 5:40) “No one leader dominated all the others, either. There were strong and respected leaders among the churches, but for five hundred years, Christianity had no ‘supreme-o bishop’ that dictated to all the others which Books belonged to the canon, and which didn’t. As a matter of fact, when the Church of Rome first began to throw its weight around, it was decidedly put in place by the others.
Reading Edwards’ own sources, we can see that this claim (like the others we’ve examined) is wrong.

C. Origen

Edwards next appeals to Origin, but focuses solely on his New Testament canon:
(IV 2:04) “Origen, a Christian leader from Alexandria, was using all our 27 Books as Scripture, and no others, and he referred to them as the New Testament. He believed them to be inspired by the Spirit.
Conveniently omitted is what Origen had to say about the Old Testament.  He listed 1 and 2 Maccabees as Scripture, and distinguished the Jewish Old Testament canon from the Christian one by saying that the Jews rejected “Tobias (as also Judith).”  He then proceeded to defend the inspiration and accuracy of Tobit.

D. Eusebius

Edwards tells us about Eusebius’ views, but only on the canon of the New Testament:
(IV, 2:25) “By A.D. 325, Eusebius, the earliest Church historian, and an advisor to the Emperor Constantine, who was the first Roman Emperor to embrace the Christian faith, made it his business to check out what all the churches were using. He listed 22 Books as unquestioned by any church across the Empire, and the other five (that would be James, Jude, 2 Peter, 2 and 3 John), he said were widely recognized by all the churches.
But Eusebius, like all of the other Church Fathers we’ve seen, treats Deuterocanonical Books as Scripture. In his Proof of the Gospel, he quotes from Baruch 3:29-37, and adds, “I need add nothing to these inspired words, which so clearly support my argument.” In the same work, he quotes Wisdom and the longer version of Daniel as Scripture, as well.

E. Athanasius

17th century Icon of St. Athanasius
Finally, we arrive at St. Athanasius. His letter, dating to 367 A.D., is the first piece of Patristic evidence that Edwards appeals to:
(I, 2:43) “In the first few centuries, there had been very little debate among Christians about which books belonged to the Bible. And certainly by the time of the Church leader Athanasius in the fourth century, the number of Books had long been fixed. He set out the Books of the New Testament, just as we know them today, and he added, “These are fountains of salvation, that whoever thirsts may be satisfied by the eloquence within them. In them alone is set forth the doctrine of piety. Let no one add to them, nor take anything from them.” Now, Athanasius has a slightly different order than ours: for example, he places Hebrews before Timothy, indicating that he at least was sure that Paul wrote the letter to the Hebrews.
It’s this last claim that initially drew my attention to this talk, because Athanasius listed Baruch as canonical, while excluding the Book of Esther. And thirty years after Athanasius wrote the letter in question, the North African Council of Carthage laid out the canon of Scripture (including the full and exact Catholic canon), St. Augustine defended the canon of Scripture (including the full and exact Catholic canon), and Pope Damasus I commissioned St. Jerome to translate the Bible (including the full and exact Catholic canon) into the “vulgar” tongue, Latin. Yet we’re supposed to view this as a period in which “the number of Books had long been fixed” as the 66 Books of the Protestant Bible, even though neither Athanasius nor any of his peers held to that canon.

Summary of the Patristic Evidence

Remember that all of the Church Fathers we’ve discussed are ones that Edwards cherry-picked for their views on the canon.  I didn’t just hunt down a handful of citations to the Deuterocanon from random early Christians: I restricted myself only to those Church Fathers that Edwards explicitly appealed to in presenting his case in “Why 66?”

And yet each and every last one of them refers to at least part of the Deuterocanon. And they don’t just refer to it, they cite to these Books as Scripture. You’ve got the Muratorian Fragment listing Wisdom as part of the canon, Irenaeus ascribing Baruch to Jeremiah, Origen listing 1 and 2 Maccabees as part of the canon, and defending the inspiration of Tobit and Judith, Eusebius referring to Baruch as “inspired,” and Athanasius listing Baruch as part of the canon. And yet, once again, this is how Edwards describes that mass of historical evidence:
(II, 2:56) “Now, it’s true that some of the early Church leaders beyond the New Testament quoted from the Apocrypha, though compared to their use of the Old Testament very rarely, but there’s no evidence that they treated them as Scripture.
All that evidence, from the sources themselves (often from works that Edwards quotes from), that directly disproves what Edwards claims? Wave it away.

II. Trusting the Holy Spirit

The last point that I want to touch on from Edwards’ talk is actually a point on which we’re in relative agreement.
(IV, 11:10) “A belief in the authority and inerrancy of Scripture is bound to a belief in the Divine preservation of the canon. After all, the God who ‘breathed out’ (2 Timothy 3:16) His words into the minds of the writers ensured that those books, and no others, formed part of the completed canon of the Bible.
I agree with this statement emphatically. It is a great argument... for the Catholic canon of Scripture. The 66-Book Protestant canon of Scripture was not in use for the first 1500 years of Church history. That’s why Protestant apologists trying to defend the 66-Book canon end up trying to separately prove the New Testament (from the testimony of the early Church) and the Old Testament (often from the writings of a single Jewish historian, Josephus, while ignoring the testimony of the early Church). But the early Church didn’t use the Jewish Old Testament, and as Origen’s writings make clear, they were well aware of this fact. This is also why Protestant apologists like R.C. Sproul and James Swan are left arguing that Christianity has only a “fallible set of infallible Books”: because if the canon was set infallibly, it was set long before the Reformation, and not in the direction Protestants want.

Remember, the Christian canon of Scripture was closed long before the Reformation. The Catholic canon can be shown to have been in continual and widespread usage since at least the time of the the Council of Carthage in 397, and usage of each of the individual Books can be traced by much earlier.  This 73-Book canon is what has been used by most Christians throughout history, and the canon endorsed by Pope Damasus I, the Latin Vulgate, and formally endorsed by the Ecumenical Council of Trent.  It is still the canon used by most of the world’s Christians (remember: fewer than two out of every five Christians are Protestant).

Now, consider the impact of the Latin Vulgate alone.  It was the Bible used by virtually every Western Christian from the 400s to the Reformation.  Mark Hoffman, of the Lutheran Theological Seminary at Gettysburg, paints a portrait of just how influential this Bible was:
This version of the Bible was familiar to and read by Christians for over a thousand years (c. AD 400–1530). The Vulgate exerted a powerful influence, especially in art and music as it served as inspiration for countless paintings and hymns. Early attempts to translate the Bible into contemporary languages were invariably made from the Vulgate, as it was esteemed as an infallible, divinely inspired text. Even when Protestants sought to replace the Vulgate for good with translations in the language of the people from the original languages, they could not avoid the enormous influence of Jerome's translation, with its dignified style and flowing prose.
If Protestants are right about the canon of Scripture, it means that for 1500 years, the Holy Spirit failed to ensure “that those books, and no others, formed part of the completed canon of the Bible.”  Which, as Edwards points out, completely undermines belief in the authority and inerrancy of Scripture.  Since we know that the Holy Spirit wouldn’t lead the entire Church into error on this subject, we can say for certain that the Protestant canon is wrong.  In other words, So Edwards has just shown the 66 cannot be correct. Conversely, if the Holy Spirit preserved the canon of Scripture throughout history, the only serious contender is the 73-Book Catholic canon.

III. Shifting Paradigms

Carl Heinrich Bloch, The Sermon on the Mount (19th c.)
Having said all of that, I would suggest that Edwards is framing the problem incorrectly, or at least, in an incomplete manner.  His argument is that since God “breathed” Holy Scripture, we can trust that He took the steps necessary to protect it. As I said above, I agree. But broaden the argument a bit.

The primary revelation of God isn’t the Bible, but Jesus Christ Himself, the revealed Image of the Invisible God (Col. 1:15), and the culmination of all prophesy (Hebrews 1:1-2).  He left Christians with a Deposit of Faith: the Gospel.  It’s ultimately this Deposit of Faith that’s guarded.  And using Edwards’ argument above, we can trust that the Gospel was preserved only if we can trust that the Holy Spirit has perpetually guarded that Deposit of Faith, and prevented anything from being added or lost.

But the primary means that Christ left us to protect the Gospel was not the canon of Scripture (which neither Jesus nor the Apostles ever directly provided us), nor is it even the New Testament.  Rather, it has always been the Catholic Church.  Consider the evidence:

  1. Jesus didn’t write a single Book of Scripture.   We take it for granted that there’s no Gospel of Jesus (Edwards actually laughs at the idea in his talk): we seem to have overlooked how strange that fact is, compared to both the Old Testament and virtually every other world religion.
  2. Jesus did not leave us with an explicit list of inspired Books, and neither did His Apostles. Protestant apologists do all sorts of acrobatics to explain away why neither Jesus nor the Apostles explicitly addressed which Books belonged in the Bible. But Jesus and the Apostles never even say which Old Testament Books belong in the Bible. That is why theologians like Edwards end up making up their own standards for which Books belong in Scripture and which do not.
  3. The majority of the Apostles never write a single Book of Scripture, either.  Andrew, James the Great, Philip, Bartholomew, Thomas, Simon, and Matthias died without writing a single word of Scripture.
What did Jesus and the Apostles do, then?  In Mark’s Gospel, the very first words we hear out of Jesus’ mouth as He began His public ministry are proclaiming the Kingdom of God: “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent, and believe in the gospel” (Mark 1:15).  He then calls Twelve Disciples to Himself, and ordains them Apostles (Luke 6:13), a position that Peter (in Acts 1:20) calls an episkopēn or “bishopric.” The same Greek word is used to describe the office of bishop in 1 Timothy 3:1.

Peter Paul Rubens,
Christ Surrendering the Keys to Peter (1614)
Jesus has much more to say about the Kingdom (see, e.g., Matthew 13), but the next major turning point is when He draws a connection between the Church and the Kingdom of Heaven in a dramatic way: by telling entrusting Peter with the Keys to the Kingdom, and promising to build the Church upon him (Matthew 16:17-19).  

The Gospels of Mark and Luke show that you don’t need to be an Apostle to write Scripture. So why does Jesus call the Twelve, and invest so much time in them? Because they’re going to lead the Church. The word “Apostle” literally means “one who is sent away,” and that’s what they were sent to do: proclaim the Gospel, establish churches, and catechize the next generation of Christians.

Through the power of the Holy Spirit, the Apostles succeeded in this mission.  While fewer than half of the Apostles wrote Books of the Bible, every one of them was instrumental in establishing churches, from one end of the known world to the other.  St. James died at the western edge of the known world, in modern-day Santiago de Compostela, Spain, while St. Thomas made it all the way to Kerala, India, at the other end of the known world).  In other words, within a generation, they had established a global Church.  Furthermore, they trained the next generation of Christians: as we saw from Edwards’ talk, the  Apostle John trained St. Polycarp of Smyrna, who trained St. Irenaeus of Lyons.  These Church Fathers both preserved and spread the Gospel, defending it from new heresies, and bringing it to every nation and people they could find.

In other words, Jesus did leave us with a clear mechanism for preserving the Gospel, but it wasn’t a list of inspired Books.  Rather, it was His Bride, the Church, the House of the Living God (1 Timothy 3:15).  It was this Church, perpetually guided and safeguarded by the Holy Spirit, that preserved the Scriptures.  It is because we can trust that the Holy Spirit is watching out for the Church that we know that He didn’t let the Scriptures get destroyed, materially altered, or mixed with heretical books.  That’s it. You simply cannot divorce the Scriptures apart from their Mother, the Church.

Protestants often assume that there’s a tension between Scripture and the Church: that they trust the Scriptures, and Catholics trust the Church. This gets the situation completely backwards. You can only trust the Gospels if you can trust that the Holy Spirit didn’t abandon the Church.  Once you undermine the authority of the Catholic Church, you undermine the only coherent reason to believe in the canon of Scripture passed down by Christians for centuries. Luther quickly found out: after rejecting the authority of the Catholic Church, he realized he didn’t have any reason to preserve the traditional canon. This lead both to his (successful) removal of the Deuterocanon from the Old Testament, and his (unsuccessful) attempts to remove James, Hebrews, Jude, and Revelation from the New Testament. Undermine the Church, and you undermine the canon of Scripture, and thus, Scripture itself.  So it’s not Scripture or the Church. It’s both or neither.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Why Not 66: Answering Brian Edward's Arguments for the Protestant Canon (Pt. I)

Brian Edwards
In continuing my search for a principled basis for the Protestant canon of Scripture, I found what looked to be the perfect fit. It’s a talk called “Why 66?,” an hour long presentation by the Evangelical theologian Brian Edwards, which sought to answer, for a Protestant audience:
(I, 6:37). “So what is the evidence for our collection of 66 Books? How certain can we be, that they are the correct Books that make up our Bible, no more and no less?
Yes! This is exactly what I was looking for.  Edwards is seeking to defend the historicity of the Protestant Bible, and protect it against criticisms from both Catholics and modern Biblical critics. Answers in Genesis, the Evangelical, Young-Earth Creation group responsible for the series, normally charges $12.99 for this talk, but they’re hosting it on their site for free. Because the have the video split into four parts, my citations are to part, then minute and second – so the quote above is from 6:37 into the first part.

I’ll save you $13 and an hour of your time by saying that Edwards’ claims are consistently false, and easily debunked. Edwards makes four major arguments that I disagree with, and one that I very much agree with.  Today, I want to focus on debunking three of those four arguments: specifically, (1) that we should accept the Protestant Old Testament because it’s the one that the Jewish people always used, (2) that this is the Old Testament that Jesus and the Apostles used, (3) that we should ignore the canon found in the Septuagint, since we have no reason to believe it reflects the actual Scriptures that Jesus and the Apostles quoted from.

I. Jewish Acceptance

Edwards makes two central claims about Jewish acceptance. The first is an argument from history, and the second from theology, and both can be proven incorrect.

1. Bad History: The Jewish Canon Closed in c. 400 B.C.

Edwards’ first argument is that the Jewish canon was closed very early on, centuries before Christ, and that the Deuterocanon was never considered part of the Jewish Scriptures:
(I, 6:35) “Now the Jews had a clearly defined body of Scripture. This was fixed early in the life of Israel, and there was no doubt about which Books belonged and which didn’t.
From later context, he seems to date the fixing of the Jewish canon at around 400 B.C., shortly after the Book of Malachi was written.  There are several ways of disproving Edwards’ claim here, although he does a pretty good job of it himself later on, when he says this about the Dead Sea Scrolls, which date to the first century A.D.:
(II, 0:28) “The collection of scrolls […] actually does not provide scholars with a definitive list of Old Testament Books. There isn’t such a thing. They were using all the Old Testament Books as Scripture, with the exception of Esther, but it doesn’t actually provide us with a list. Even if it did, it wouldn’t necessary tell us what mainstream, orthodox Judaism believed. After all, the Samaritans used only their own version of the Pentateuch, but they didn’t represent mainstream Judaism, and neither did the community at Wadi Qumran.
Samaritan High Priest and “Old Pentateuch” (1905)
Aramaic and Hebrew copies of the Books of Tobit and Sirach have also been found amongst the Dead Sea Scrolls, also, so it wasn’t simply that the Essenes rejected Esther. It’s that they apparently accepted two of the Books of the Deuterocanon that Edwards claimed was universally rejected. And yet both the Samaritans and the Essenes at Wadi Qumran were from about a half-millennium after Edwards claimed that the canon was fixed.

So how does Edwards deal with these alternative canons? He simply writes off these sects as outside of “mainstream Judaism.” There’s a problem with that answer, because the Sadducees were well within the Jewish mainstream (and are mentioned several times in the New Testament), and accepted only the first five Books of the Bible. For this reason, Jesus used only the Pentateuch when refuting the Sadducees (see, e.g., Matthew 22:23-33).

Nor was this isolated to a few sects. The Septuagint (more on that later) was the Greek version of the Old Testament used by ordinary, Greek-speaking Jews at the time of Christ, and contained the Deuterocanon (more on that later). Furthermore, the Jewish Talmud, considered by mainstream Judaism to be the holiest texts outside of Scripture, quotes Ecclesiasticus 13:15 as Scripture, explicitly describing it as part of the Hagiographa, the third of the three parts of the Jewish canon. That Book, also called Sirach, is part of the Catholic Deuterocanon that was allegedly never accepted by the Jews as Scripture. Yet here it is, being expressly described as Scripture by the Talmud itself.

So the Jewish canon was not, at the time of Christ, a fixed thing that excluded the Deuterocanon.  The Jewish Virtual Library’s own article on the subject notes that the majority of scholars believe that the Jewish canon was not completely closed until sometime in the second century A.D.  There is plenty of evidence of the gradual acceptance (or rejection) of specific Books: as noted above, there are ancient Jewish texts like the Talmud speaking of Books as part of the canon that are no longer part of the Jewish canon.  There are also Books that moved in the other direction, apparently including the Book of Daniel.  Daniel is found in the “Writings” section, instead of the more-logical “Prophets” section, likely because the “Prophets” section was closed before the Jewish community determined that Daniel’s writings were Scripture.

2. Bad Theology: The Holy Spirit Stopped Prophesy in 450 B.C.?

The obvious question that all of this raises is: so what? Even if the Jews prior to Christ had only the 44 Books of the Protestant Bible, why is that binding on Christians? After all, both Protestants and Catholics (and all other Christians) believe that the Jews have an incomplete canon. Edwards seems to answer this by suggesting that this Jewish witness shows that the Holy Spirit went quiet for several centuries. In making this argument, he transitions from bad history to bad theology:
(II, 1:40) “So, for the Jews therefore, Scripture as a revelation from God through the prophets ended around 450 B.C., and beyond there, there was (according to them) no voice of the Spirit in the land. The close of the Book of Malachi finished their canon. This was the Bible of Jesus and His Disciples, and it was precisely the same in content as our Old Testament.
Alexey Yegorov,
Simeon the Righteous (1830s)
In other words, we can know that the Deuterocanon doesn’t belong, because the Holy Spirit stopped speaking around 450 B.C., with the close of the Book of Malachi. But that argument, taken seriously, wouldn’t just be a reason to reject the Deuterocanon. It would be a reason to reject the entire New Testament. If the Holy Spirit stopped inspiring Scriptures a half-millennium before the Gospels were written, then the Gospels aren’t inspired Scripture.

Earlier, Edwards argued against the Deuterocanon specifically by claiming that:
(I, 11:50) “The Jews clearly ruled them [the Deuterocanonical Books] out, by the confession that throughout that period, the period between Malachi and Matthew, around 400 years, there was no voice of the prophets in the land.
Of course, Jews don’t make that confession, since they don’t confess Matthew (or any of the New Testament) as inspired by the Holy Spirit. Mainstream Judaism teaches that Scripture stopped in 450 B.C. permanently.  Only Protestants hold to a belief in this un-Scriptural notion that there were 500 years of Divine silence.

But let’s directly address the notion that the Spirit went quiet from Malachi to Matthew, anways. There are serious problems with this claim. First, Luke 2:36 refers to the prophetess Anna as being active at the time of the birth of Christ, and she’s already “very old” by the time of His Birth. Second, Jesus explicitly says that “all the prophets and the law prophesied until John” (Matthew 11:13). So Old Covenant prophesy continues through to John the Baptist, meaning right up until the point that Jesus Christ begins His public ministry (John 3:30; Mark 1:14). All of this is direct refutation of the notion that the voice of the Spirit went quiet in 450 B.C., either permanently, or until the Gospel of Matthew.

II. Jesus and the Apostles

Towards the end of the first part of his talk, Edwards directly attacks the Catholic Bible for including the Deuterocanon. He begins his argument like this:
(I, 11:28) “There is a cluster of fourteen Books (the number depends which way you count them and include them, fourteen or fifteen), known as the ‘Apocrypha,’ a word that refers to ‘hidden writings.’ They were written sometime between the close of the Old Testament, around A.D. 400 [sic – he means 400 B.C., presumably], and the beginning of the New. They were never considered part of the Old Testament Hebrew Scriptures. The Jews clearly ruled them out, by the confession that throughout that period, the period between Malachi and Matthew, around 400 years, there was no voice of the prophets in the land. Josephus, the historian, never used them as Scripture. And very significantly, Jesus and the Apostles never quoted – ever – from the Apocrypha. And on that authority alone, we would say they should never be added to the Bible.
Bernardo Strozzi, The Healing of Tobit (1635)
Note the three things that Edwards has done in the first sentence:

  1. First, he’s grouped the seven Books of the Catholic Deuterocanon into a “cluster of fourteen books” along with several (unnamed) books that aren’t considered canonical by either Catholics or Protestants.
  2.  Second, he’s given all fourteen books (the Catholic seven, and the non-Christian seven) the pejorative title “Apocrypha,” instead of the more accurate (and precise) “Deuterocanon.”
  3.  Third, he’s made sure that his audience knows that Apocrypha is a bad word, with connotations of hidden Gnostic Gospels. 

As I said in response to Mark Driscoll (who did the same three things in his argument against the Deuterocanon): “It's a dangerous and misleading argument. It would be like Catholics grouping the writings of Luther and Calvin in with the writings of Muhammad and Joseph Smith, Jr., and claiming that these writings should be rejected since ‘many of them claim to be post-Biblical revelations.’ That claim, while perhaps technically true, would be wildly misleading, and unfair to Luther and Calvin.”

After starting out in this manner, Edwards then argues against the Deuterocanon on the basis that “They were never considered part of the Old Testament Hebrew Scriptures,” and that the “Jews clearly ruled them out, by the confession that throughout that period, the period between Malachi and Matthew, around 400 years, there was no voice of the prophets in the land,” both of which claims were shown to be false in the prior section.

But the meat of his argument is in that last sentence, that “Jesus and the Apostles never quoted – ever – from the Apocrypha. And on that authority alone, we would say they should never be added to the Bible.

This is a genuinely fascinating claim: that Jesus and the Apostles are exercising their authority to reject Books from the Bible simply by not quoting from them directly. Edwards actually claims this as a sort of foundation for Protestant Evangelicals to base their Bibles on:
(I, 12:22) “It should be noted, of course, that the Roman Catholic Church and Eastern Orthodox Churches do accept some of the Apocrypha as Scripture, because as far as the Catholic Church is concerned, for example, the Book of Maccabees supports the praying for the dead, and it’s rather difficult to find any support for that in the 66 Books of the Bible. So it was necessary to add a few to it. But as far as the Protestant Evangelical is concerned, the authority of Jesus and the Apostles is final. Never once do they quote from the Apocrypha.
Ignore, for now, the ugly suggestion that Catholics and Orthodox intentionally undermine Jesus and the Apostles, as well as the historically-absurd claim that the Catholic Church added the Deuterocanon to the Catholic Bible (and, apparently, to the Orthodox Bible) in order to justify praying for the dead.

Eastern Orthodox Icon of the Prophet Nehemiah
For now, focus solely on his final boast: that, for Protestant Evangelicals, a Book that isn’t quoted by Jesus or the Apostles cannot be accepted, without usurping the final authority of Jesus and the Apostles. Is this true? Not even remotely:Of Old Testament books quoted in the New Testament, it is generally agreed that Ruth, Ezra, Nehemiah, Esther, Ecclesiastes, and Song of Songs are not explicitly cited. To this list some would add Lamentations, others Chronicles.” In fact, you could arguably add Joshua, Judges, 2 Kings, Obadiah, Nahum, and Zephaniah to the list as well.  Yet every one of these Books is in the Protestant Bible, nonetheless. Edwards is claiming as “the authority of Jesus and the Apostles” a standard that neither he nor his Evangelical brethren are living up to.

That is bad enough.  What’s worse is that Edwards actually seems to be aware of this. When considering the Protestant Old Testament, he subtly lowers the bar, to include Books that are alluded to, but never quoted, saying that there are “literally hundreds of direct quotations or clear allusions to Old Testament passages by Jesus and the Apostles, it’s evident what the early Christians thought about the Hebrew Scriptures” (II, 2:31). Why does that matter?  Because the Deuterocanon can meet this lower standard (see, e.g., Hebrews 11:35-37, which alludes to 2 Maccabees 7).

In other words, Edwards is applying one standard for those Books that he accepts, and a much stricter standard for those he rejects, the sort of hypocritical special pleading I’ve criticized before. I suppose it is worth mentioning that Edwards is making up both standards, and then accusing Catholics and Orthodox of not considering “the authority of Jesus and the Apostles” to be “final” when our Bibles (like his) don’t meet the higher of his two made-up standards.

III. The Septuagint

One of the strongest arguments in favor of the canonicity of the Deuterocanon is that it’s included as Scripture in the Septuagint, the Greek version of the Old Testament used by the overwhelming majority of Jews (up to and through the time of Christ) and Christians (from the time of Christ onwards). Most significantly, Jesus and the Apostles repeatedly quote from this canon, and certain prophesies only work if the Septuagint translation is correct.

Here’s how Edwards treats that inconvenient reality:
(I, 12:54) “The Old Testament had been translated into Greek around the third century B.C., around 250 B.C. The translation is known as the Septuagint, a word meaning ‘seventy,’ after the supposedly seventy men involved in the translation. Now, since Greek was the common language of the day, it was the Greek Septuagint that the Apostles and Jesus frequently used in their New Testament letters. Whether or not the Septuagint also contained the Apocrypha is impossible to say for certain. But if it did, and I say that because the earliest Septuagints we have are fifth century A.D., they do contain the Apocrypha, but that doesn’t tell us what they started out with in the year 250 B.C. But even if it did, it’s all the more significant that Jesus and the Apostles never quoted from the Apocrypha, though they quote from the Old Testament literally hundreds of time.
At the 13:24 mark, as he says “Whether or not the Septuagint also contained the Apocrypha is impossible to say for certain,” he puts up a slide going even further, saying that the Septuagint “Probably did not include Apocrypha.” And he claims all this while admitting that the earliest existent copies (in fact, every known copy) of the Septuagint all contain Deuterocanonical Books.

His whole argument turns on the passage of time: that since the copies of the Septuagint we have are from the fifth century, the Deuterocanon must have been added somewhere along the way. No further reason is given. What’s amusing about this is that later in the talk, Edwards mocks liberal Biblical scholars for making this exact argument:
Dead Sea Great Isaiah Scroll, Isaiah 53
(IV, 0:28) “Now, you’ve often heard it assumed that, since our earliest existing manuscripts are dated hundreds of years after the original autographs were written, there must be thousands of mistakes. Now before I close, I want to check that one out, and add a few little bits as a post-script. It’s not directly concerned with the canon, but it’s of interest. 
Among the Dead Sea Scrolls discovered from 1947, Cave 1 contained a well preserved copy of the entire prophesy of Isaiah. It was dated around 150 B.C. That makes it almost 1000 years older than our oldest copy up until then. Plenty of time for all these thousands of errors to creep in, right? In fact, there is a remarkable agreement between the Dead Sea Isaiah and the earliest copy there, called the Masoretic Scrolls, the Masoretic Text. And bear in mind that the Dead Sea community were not professional scribes, they were writing in their own dialect of Hebrew, so most of the differences between them were matters of pronouns, numbers, or spelling. […] The Dead Sea Scrolls, far from showing a mass of copyist errors, actually show how accurate the copyists were.
He then adds several examples of works that we assume are well-preserved, despite not having early manuscripts. For example, he shows that this very argument could be used to discredit Josephus, the exact  same Jewish historian that he rested his earlier “the Jews didn’t accept the Deuterocanon” argument upon:
(IV, 3:35) “Did you know that the earliest complete text of Josephus’ Antiquities are 1,300 years after his death?
So Josephus’ writings (which weren’t considered inspired) can be preserved whole and intact for 1300 years without fear of error, and the Book and Isaiah can be preserved (even by amateur copyists) for 1000 years, yet we’re supposed to believe that the Septuagint (considered at the time to be both inspired Scripture and a divinely-inspired translation), somehow picked up entire Books over the span of a few centuries?

The Codex Sinaiticus, Matthew 6:32-7:27
Once again, Edwards is engaging in special pleading: a reasonable standard for Books he likes, and a ridiculous standard for Books he doesn’t.  Perhaps nowhere is this special pleading clearer than when he talks about the Codex Sinaiticus, which contains the Septuagint:
(IV, 4:40) “By contrast to the less than handful of texts of early Greek texts for Josephus, Caesar, and Tacitus, we have around 5,500 Greek texts including full texts, collections, sections, and small fragments to help us put our New Testament together. 
The best known and most complete is the Codex Sinaiticus. Written in Greek capitals, it’s the earliest complete copy of the New Testament in a bound Book so far discovered. […] It’s dated around the middle of the fourth century A.D. It was discovered in 1859 at a monastery on Mount Sinai, hence its name. It originally contained the whole Old Testament plus six Books of the Apocrypha, although parts have been destroyed with age.
He’s trying to simultaneously use the Codex Sinaiticus as proof of what the early Christians held as canonical of the New Testament, while simply waving away the implications for what this says about the early Christian Old Testament (since the Codex includes a substantial portion of the Deuterocanon).

That’s enough for today, I think. Tomorrow, I’ll address the final of the four bad arguments Edwards raises: that none of the Early Church Fathers quote from the Deuterocanon as Scripture. Then I’ll turn towards the one argument on which we most certainly agree, and show why that supports the Catholic canon of Scripture, rather than the Protestant one.  Tune in tomorrow to see what that argument is, and why it supports the Catholic position.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Debunking the “Pro-Choice” Euphemism

To no great surprise, it turns out “pro-choice” just means the choice to abort your kid, not the choice to, say, have an incandescent light bulb or drink a large soda. This reality was highlighted by a recent Reason TV video in which Democratic delegates and supporters were interviewed about “choice” at the 2012 Democratic National Convention in Charlotte:

In other words, most of the people claiming to be “pro-choice” are pledging fealty to a set of principles (about individual bodily autonomy and the like) that they don’t actually hold outside of the realm of abortion. It’s inaccurate to refer to this as “pro-choice,” and far more accurate to refer to it as “pro-abortion,” or (to use the AP style guide) being an “abortion rights supporter.”

Perhaps this is semantics, but I think not. I would suggest that there are two reasons that this is important. First, because the use of euphemism tells us something about the reality of abortion. I’ve been reading D. Q. McInery’s book Being Logical, in which he says:
The user shapes language, but language shapes the user as well. If we consistently use language that serves to distort reality, we can eventually come to believe our own twisted rhetoric. Such is the power of language. At first hearing, terms like “cultural revolution” and “reeducation” might sound quite harmless. Then one learns that they masked totalitarian brutality at its worst. 
It is juvenile to use language simply to shock. But shocking language is preferable to evasive language, if it can disabuse people of hazy ideas and acquaint them with the truth.
I think that this power of language was visible in the above video. The people being interviewed were not, as far as I can tell, trying to deceive the interviewer. They almost certainly thought of themselves as “pro-choice,” of having a live-and-let-live attitude towards what other people do with their bodies. They had, in other words, been fooled by their own language.

So the question that this video should raise (in my opinion) is: what sort of a thing is “intentional abortion” that it has to be referred to by its supporters in overly-technical or euphemistic language? This linguistic practice alone should be sending up all sorts of red flags to listeners. And yes, the exact same point can be made about those who advocate for torture under euphemisms like “enhanced interrogation.” If you’re re-defining what a term means, or refusing to use the ordinary term for the act in question, chances are good that you’re advocating for something pernicious.

The second reason is the obvious hypocrisy. Supporters of legalized abortion use a set of essentially-libertarian arguments that they reject in almost every other context. It really is hypocrisy at its rankest.  There are essentially three principled ways out:

  1. Stop supporting abortion, and take the positive principles of liberalism (like a belief that we’re all in this together, and a concern for the weakest among us), and apply those to the unborn; 
  2. Stop supporting liberalism, and become libertarians across the board, or 
  3. Find some non-hypocritical defense for abortion. 

As a pro-life Catholic, I’d advocate (1), while I suspect that the producers of the Reason TV video would advocate (2), and principled abortion supporters would advocate (3). But I think all three groups should concede that the standard positions being used to defend abortion now are embarrassingly contradictory.  The Reason video just demonstrated this reality in a particularly effective way.


P.S.  So what’s the answer to the response that pro-lifers are also equally guilty of intellectual inconsistency, and are really pro-fetus, not pro-life? Even if it were correct, this argument is guilty of the tu quoque fallacy. That is, it doesn’t actually make it okay to use disingenuous arguments, just because you think your opponents use them, and that mentality is a race to the bottom.

But even as a tu quoque, it fails. Pro-lifers really do hold to a consistent set of intellectual principles. As a “lowest common denominator” principle, I’d point to the principle that innocent human life should never be intentionally taken. Given any public policy issue, if it involves the intentional taking of innocent human life (whether we’re talking about abortion, infanticide, euthanasia, targeting civilians in war, or some other form of murder), the views of pro-lifers can be determined from applying this principle.

But this principle doesn’t dictate (although it may inform) how pro-lifers feel about issues like the minimum wage, universal health care, or the size of government. I agree that it would be better if all pro-lifers also had a high view of the dignity of, say, workers or immigrants. But that’s a separate issue, related to “quality of life” rather than the basic issue of life and death.  Someone could, therefore, take an absolutely libertarian, no-government-assistance view of the role of government, and still acknowledge an intrinsic right to life, and the duty of the government to protect that basic right.  But even here, pro-lifers are probably a lot more self-giving than you imagine.